Thursday, October 2, 2008

Equality and Leadership

In my last post I mentioned power inequalities. One place this often comes up is in groups and organizations.

I've talked a quite a bit already about decentralized leadership--in terms of Catalysts and Network Weavers (see my post of 8/31/08) and in terms of emergent structure and 'leaderless groups' (see my posts on Clustering and Coping, 8/13/08, and especially the stories about the Great Peace March in my post of 9/16/08). Certainly the idea of 'leaderless' groups sounds like it would foster more equality. But there is a difference between not having leaders and not having leadership. I suspect the difference between Clustering and Coping is leadership, and I suspect that there was a good deal of emergent leadership in the Great Peace March--just not leaders.

Two articles, both originally from the 1970s, directly take on the issues of leaders, leadership, power, and inequality.

"Leadership for Change" was originally published as an article in WIN magazine in 1978. Movement for a New Society reissued it as a pamphlet and eventually New Society Publishers republished it. It is currently available from the Training for Change site. The authors, Bruce Kokopeli and George Lakey, argue that leadership is a much different thing than leaders, and break leadership down to 20 different components under two broad headings, Task Functions (examples include 'Information and opinion-giving', 'Summarizing', 'Coordinating', and 'Evaluating') and Morale Functions (examples include 'Encouraging participation', 'Relieving Tension', 'Helping communication', 'Evaluating emotional climate', 'Active listening', and 'Building Trust'). They then point out that Task Functions are most often performed by men, and get the spotlight, and Morale Functions are most often performed by women and are underappreciated. Their main point is that leadership can be seen as a set of functions which can be performed by anyone--so leadership can be distributed and shared--thus contributing to equality within the group.

"The Tyranny of Structurelessness" comes from a talk Jo Freeman gave in 1970 and was first published in 1972. It's been widely published since. (Jo Freeman has it, along with its history, on her website.) She claims that there is no such thing as real 'structurelessness'; there are only structures that are made explicit and structures that are implicit, informal, and practically invisible. She further states that if you want to know who has the most power in a 'structureless' group, look to see who is advocating 'structurelessness' most strongly--they are usually the ones who are most benefiting from keeping structures from being visible. She then goes on to discuss the nature of 'elitism' and discusses how in any groups above a certain size that are actually trying to accomplish something (as opposed to simply sharing and consciousness raising), there is already an elite group occurring. In order to have shared leadership, structures must be made explicit. She advocates things like distribution of authority, rotation and allocation of tasks, delegation of specific authority and requiring responsibility to the group from those give authority, diffusion of information as widely as possible, and equal access to resources.

Many of those things (especially diffusion of information) are already talked about in Complexity/Emergent Behavior circles, but I think that it's important to think about leadership (as opposed to leaders) as a way to encourage equality, and pay attention to emergent structure. Maybe it is egalitarian, but it also may be benefitting a few at the expense of others. Making structures explicit and deliberately sharing leadership makes equality more likely.

Quote of the day: "When these principles are applied, they insure that whatever structures are developed by different movement groups will be controlled by and responsible to the group. The group of people in positions of authority will be diffuse, flexible, open, and temporary. They will not be in such an easy position to institutionalize their power because ultimate decisions will be made by the group at large. The group will have the power to determine who shall exercise authority within it." - Jo Freeman
Word (or phrase) of the day: Bio-boy
Hero(es) of the day: Rosa Luxemburg

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